Alabama court orders sheriff removed for corruption

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama Supreme Court has ordered a county sheriff removed from office for corruption and neglect of duty.

Justices issued the unanimous decision Wednesday after more than two days of testimony in the impeachment trial against Sumter County Sheriff Tyrone Clark. State prosecutors accused Clark of a litany of offenses, including that he allowed an inmate to run a contraband operation from within the jail. They also accused Clark of running an unauthorized work-release program where inmates left the jail to do things like sell watermelons and then give Clark a percentage of their earnings

"Justice has been served," Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange told reporters after the decision. "A violation of the public trust by a law enforcement official is about the highest level of corruption that I can imagine."

Clark, who does not face criminal charges, had maintained his innocence and denied the allegations when he testified at the impeachment trial.

A lawyer for the sheriff called the case a political witch hunt rooted in allegiances between people opposed to the sheriff.

"They couldn't beat him in an election and attempted to knock him out of office so they could take his place," attorney Robert Tuten said in closing arguments, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

The rarely used impeachment proceeding came after a grand jury detailed numerous allegations against Clark in a report dated April 7, about a month after state and federal authorities raided the jail in Livingston.

A report from Strange's office said prisoner Rodney Coats, 39, was supposed to remain behind bars on $675,000 bond on charges including assault, methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking, and receiving stolen property. Instead, Clark ordered staff not to shake him down, gave him access to firearms, enabled him to engage in human trafficking from inside the jail, and arranged an unsecured room where Coats had sex with visiting women who had not been searched or monitored.

Clark denied the charges. He said he did not know inmates were not being searched. He said under the work furlough program, inmates paid 25 percent of their earnings to the sheriff's office.